One thing that separated Paul Gauguin from other artists at the time was that he used heavy outlines in his paintings. Impressionists blended pieces together to achieve a sense of time in the painting. Gauguin separated out objects with clear outlines instead. Gauguin painted outlines in watered down Prussian blue. Later the blue outlines would be filled in with opaque colors. The idea was for the dark outline to heighten the intensity of the other colors used.
Something begun (or perhaps, revived from Byzantine art) by the post-impressionists like Gauguin was the use of flat areas of bright color. Gauguin used colors such as Prussian blue, cobalt blue, emerald green, viridian, cadmium yellow, chrome yellow, red ochre, cobalt violet, and lead or zinc white.
Yet, to say that he never painted from nature would be untrue. Some of his works exhibit distinct Impressionist styles, even in his Tahitian works. The color is natural with shadows instead of large blocks of one color and the outline is less noticeable. In Contes Barbares (Primitive Tales) the flowers in the background are done similar to Monet’s “en plein air” style of painting, despite their outlines.
Gauguin had married in 1873, and it was not until 10 years later that he decided to give up the business world and devote himself to art. After a period in Rouen where he stayed with Pissarro, Gauguin went to Copenhagen with his Danish wife, only to leave his family forever a few months later. Gauguin was past age 35 and almost penniless, though a loan from Degas, who approved of his theories on the importance of line, permitted him to go to Pont-Aven. At Pont-Aven Gauguin and Emile Bernard would develop Synthetism, a style in which the expression of ideas and emotions are more important than naturalistic representations, and flat color areas reminiscent of Japanese woodcuts are outlined by heavy black lines in the manner of cloisonné enamels or stained-glass windows.
Gauguin, abandoning his earlier Impressionism, painted in this manner and also made ceramics and wood carvings to earn money. These were decorative, finely conceived Art Nouveau pieces, with a symbolism learned from Puvis de Chavannes, whom he had also admired. In 1887, Gauguin made an unsuccessful trip to Martinique to search for a primitive way of life. He spent 1888, the year of his great Synthetist work “The Yellow Christ”, in Arles with Vincent van Gogh. This adventure ended in near tragedy, as Vincent van Gogh exhibited signs of madness. Gauguin returned shortly to Brittany before leaving for Tahiti on his constant quest for the simple life and the peace of mind he would never really find.
Gauguin’s style, developed in the South, is a fusion of Oriental influences, personal symbolism, strong design, warm color, and musically rich expression that offers a spiritual image of the creative artist constantly seeking the unattainable. Gauguin remained in Tahiti until 1893, when poor health and lack of funds forced his return to Paris. He remained there until 1895, when he again settled in Tahiti. Gauguin’s stay there ended in 1901 when he became seriously ill with syphilis and in trouble with the French authorities. He moved to the Marquesas, seeking an easier and cheaper life. His health, unfortunately, deteriorated further, but he continued to paint until he died on May 8, 1903.
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